Finally … A Good Pick? Maybe …

Last night (Wednesday), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labour, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration. The reason is likely that he did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving his confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday, after even Mitch McConnell, the chief boot-licker in Congress, said that Puzder could not possibly win enough votes for confirmation.  I wrote about Puzder  back in early January, and did not view him as a good fit for the office.  But my concerns, such as the fact that he is against raising minimum wage rates, supports repealing ACA, criticizes sick leave policies, and uses sexist advertising in his businesses, are not what doomed his nomination.  No, what doomed his nomination was that he came out in support of legalized immigration!  The man finally said one thing that made sense, and he is politically murdered for it!  No less than seven Republican senators said they would not vote to confirm Puzder.  Five of these seven actually voted to confirm the likes of DeVos and Sessions, however.

But Puzder is gone … good riddance … and this brings me to a potential bright spot on the otherwise dark horizon:  Alexander Acosta, Trump’s choice to replace Puzder as nominee for Secretary of Labour.  Everything I have read about Mr. Acosta points to a man who seeks to serve justice rather than to ‘win at all costs’.  He appears to be a man who has the courage of his convictions, and I only wish he had been nominated for the position of Attorney General rather than the racist lout who was placed in that all-important position.

A bit about Acosta’s background:

  • He is a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for Judge Samuel Alito, at that time a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for a year after graduation.
  • He then worked for a D.C. law firm where he specialized in employment and labor issues.
  • Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he served on the National Labour Relations Board.
  • In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
  • In 2005, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he served until 2009.
  • Since 2009 he has served as Dean of dean of Florida International University College of Law.
  • In 2012, Acosta participated in a panel discussion called Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce, and he talked about the importance of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

I am particularly impressed by the stands he has taken in the area of civil rights, particularly the rights of immigrants.  In 2011, Acosta testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He said to the committee that “we are a nation build [sic] on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression. Indeed, as is well known to this Committee, this freedom pre-dates our Constitution.”  He goes on to talk about the importance of the president speaking up to defend Muslims.

“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve. History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom. President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger…should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.” 

The senate has confirmed Acosta three times in the past, which is certainly encouraging, however the Acosta nomination is not without problems.  The main one is likely to be the controversy over a plea bargain his office arranged in 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.  A case was brought against wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire investor accused of having sex with underage girls.  Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges if Epstein pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Epstein served 13 months of an 18 month sentence.  The controversy came about because the teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. Not surprisingly, Trump has ties also to Epstein and while some claim that Trump and Epstein were friends, Trump denies it.

Setting the above controversy aside for the moment, it would otherwise seem that Acosta is, unlike all other Trump nominees, a good fit for the job.  He is an advocate of civil rights, and has served in various labour-related positions, including the NLRB. So what, exactly, does the position of Secretary of Labour involve?

According to the United States Department of Labour:

“The Department of Labor (DOL) fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.”

I am not sure to what extent the Epstein controversy will play a role in Acosta’s confirmation hearings.  For the final conclusion, you will have to … stay tuned!

Another White House Ghoul

Yet another of Trump’s top advisors that I have largely ignored is Stephen Miller.  But in the past few days he is flying around on my radar and making me very uncomfortable, so it is time to take a closer look at Mr. Miller.

Miller’s career path has not been what I would call illustrious.  He served as communications director for former senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which certainly does nothing to raise him in my esteem.  He was also press secretary for former Representative Michele Bachmann (former Idiot of the Week and also America’s #1 Bimbo), which again, is not a feather in his cap.  And now, Mr. Miller is a “senior advisor” to Donald Trump.

millerThough raised by two liberal, Democratic parents, he became a conservative while in high school after reading a book, Guns, Crime, and Freedom, by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre. While still in high school, he started appearing on conservative talk radio shows and writing letters to editors.  While attending Duke University, he criticized poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, accusing her of “racial paranoia”, and also established a relationship with white supremacist, anti-Semitic Richard Spencer, about whom I have written before.   A former advisor at Duke later said of Miller that he, “seemed to assume that if you were in disagreement with him, there was something malevolent or stupid about your thinking — incredibly intolerant.”  Sound familiar?

Which brings us to present day.  As ‘Senior Advisor’, Miller was not subject to confirmation by the senate, and therefore officially began his new position on January 20th.  Until late last week, Miller kept a fairly low profile, or perhaps was simply overshadowed by Trump’s immigration ban and all the controversy it entailed, as well as the contentious confirmation hearings for DeVos and Sessions, among others.  But late last week, his name started appearing more often.

When the infamous ‘immigration ban’, banning people from entering the country from seven specific, Middle-Eastern, primarily Muslim countries was first signed into law, I was fairly certain its author was none other than Steve ‘Breitbart’ Bannon.  Turns out that Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions and Bannon all corroborated on the order.  Three bloomin’ racists putting their big heads together … imagine the possibilities.

Once the travel ban was halted by U.S. District Judge James Robart, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the ban, Miller adamantly defended Trump’s crude and hateful criticism of the judge.  (It should be noted that, emboldened by Trump’s very unprofessional tweets condemning Judge Robart, the judge has been a target of many threats, including one referring to Robart as “dead man walking”.  This, people, is the president we elected.)  But back to Miller … he appeared yesterday morning on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, including an interview on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos where he told so many lies that The Washington Post wrote an entire fact-checking article  disproving nearly everything he said on the program.  Other questions he simply averted, as is the standard operating procedure for the Trump team.  Alternative facts and non-answers.  Click here  for the transcript of the entire interview. He later did another interview on CBS’ Face the Nation where he spouted more of the same.

Miller defends Trump’s verbal (Twitter) attacks on Judge Robart and the appeals court, supports and falsely claims knowledge of Trump’s assertion of massive voter fraud, and of the travel ban says that “all options are on the table”.  Despite, or perhaps because of his lies and evasions, Trump was proud of his boy Stephen, tweeting, “Congratulations Stephen Miller- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!” just minutes after the segment aired.

CNN considers that Miller may be the most powerful player in the White House, and I think that, in conjunction with Steve Bannon, that may well be true.  Certainly he is, with his racist views and links to white supremacists, one of the most frightening.  Glenn Thrush of the New York Times said, “The (Steve) Bannon cluster in the White House is moving full speed ahead in part because they don’t feel like they have a lot of time, and I think if you look at the backlash against the travel ban, they may not have that much time.”

The most immediately concerning thing to me is that Trump, Bannon, Miller and others seem to believe that the courts have overstepped their bounds in placing constitutionality over the power of the president.  The appeals court last week asked repeatedly for some evidence that there was a real threat of danger from the seven countries listed in the ban, but the Justice Department, which was defending the administration’s position, could not provide such evidence.  If the Trump administration ultimately has their way on this issue, it may set a powerful precedent for future cases where Trump and his minions make decisions that are unconstitutional and not in the best interest of the nation.  If the court’s power is reduced and the power of the executive office increased, we will have taken the first step toward an autocracy … a step that may be nearly impossible to reverse.  Along with Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller may complete a triumvirate that is destined to change the values of this nation.

The Plot Thickens …

flynnOne of Trump’s cabinet picks that I have not written about yet is National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.  I did not intentionally neglect him, but there are only so many hours in a day, and I simply had not gotten around to him.  Turns out, I should have. Flynn, a retired United States Army lieutenant general, served 33 years in the U.S. Army.  Trump named him to be National Security Advisor, a position which does not require the advice and consent of the Senate. Concerns about Flynn began almost immediately, for his purported close relations with Russia, and for his role in the smear campaign against Hillary Clinton, using fake news and conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit Ms. Clinton.

Having already proven that he is not above playing dirty pool, it should come as no surprise that he may have significantly breeched a code of conduct and broken the law on Christmas Day, 2016, during a conversation with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.  That a conversation between Flynn and Kislyak took place on December 25th is verifiable fact.  The content of the conversation is what seems to be in dispute, and much is yet unknown.  However, I am a firm believer that when there is a lot of smoke in the house, you ought to call the fire department.  First, Flynn claimed that he only called Kislyak to wish him a “Merry Christmas”.  Then, it was said by the Trump transition team that the two discussed arrangements for a phone call between Trump and Putin.

Note that this was at a point during the final days of President Obama’s administration when he had a tough decision to make.  It had been confirmed that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC and releasing confidential information that may have affected the election.  As of December 25th, President Obama had made the decision to impose sanctions on Russia, but had not yet done so.

Now comes the part that is not, as yet, verified, but that may well be a smoking gun.  According to nine “unnamed current and former national security sources”, Flynn allegedly gave Kislyak a ‘heads up’ that President Obama planned to impose sanctions, but not to worry, as Trump would remove them once he took office.

In January, Mike Pence stated that the two “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.” Then as recently as Wednesday, Flynn was asked twice whether he had discussed the sanctions with Kislyak, to which he responded both times that he had not. Then the very next day, Thursday, Flynn’s spokesperson said that Flynn, “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”  He cannot remember if he discussed the forthcoming sanctions or not. This is where the trouble starts.

putinFour days after the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak, President Obama announced the sanctioning of Russian intelligence officials, expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats suspected of being spies and shutting down two Russian facilities in the United States. Many expected Putin to respond angrily and with retaliation, but instead he simply said, “It is regrettable that the Obama administration is ending its term in this manner. Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family.” It was puzzling, at the time, almost sinister, but if he already knew of the sanctions and knew they would soon be lifted, that would explain a lot. Trump, of course, condemned the president and praised Putin.

The FBI continues to investigate, and even if it can be proven that Flynn did, in fact, discuss the sanctions with Kislyak, the outcome is still uncertain. I cannot speculate. Flynn served under President Obama as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency until his firing (or resignation, depending on which version you read) in 2014, amid controversy about his chaotic management style (a good fit with his current boss, yes?).  Under another president, Flynn would likely be ousted if the accusations prove true, but under Trump, even the political analysts are not predicting what will happen.  Trump will almost certainly attempt to put some positive spin on the whole thing, but first you can bet that he will call it all ‘fake news’ by a ‘biased media’.  Meanwhile … stay tuned …

Congress Just Voted To Make America Stupid!

Under Article I, Section 5, clause 2, of the Constitution, a Member of Congress may be removed from office before the normal expiration of his or her constitutional term by an “expulsion” from the Senate (if a Senator) or from the House of Representatives (if a Representative) upon a formal vote on a resolution agreed to by two-thirds of the Members of that body present and voting.

The United States Constitution does not provide for nor authorize the recall of United States officers such as Senators, Representatives, or the President or Vice President, and thus no Member of Congress has ever been recalled in the history of the United States. The recall of Members was considered during the time of the drafting of the federal Constitution in 1787, but no such provisions were included in the final version sent to the states for ratification,

Around noon today, a banner flashed across my screen letting me know that Betsy DeVos had been confirmed as Secretary of Education.  While I knew this was the likely outcome, I am nonetheless angry and disappointed.  First, though, let me commend the two Republican senators who actually voted their conscience:  Senator Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Senator Susan Collins, of Maine. Hats off to them both. doffing-hat

Ms. DeVos is, as I outlined in a previous post,  the worst possible candidate for the position.  I will not reiterate my arguments, but will simply say that our not-so-illustrious Republicans in the Senate have just succeeded in ensuring that twenty years, forty years, sixty years from now, our population will be even less intelligent than it is today.  Once those of us who actually received an education that taught us to think for ourselves die off, there will be nothing left but self-focused, self-serving, narrow-minded people left in the U.S.  (Okay, perhaps that is a bit extreme, and the reader can use his/her better judgement to put it in perspective … I get to rant every now and then)

As you read above, there is no Constitutional means for the people who elected the senators responsible for the killing of American Education to remove them from office, and even if there were, I imagine that, like everything else, it would be a long, drawn-out process.  However it is, after just over a month, quite obvious that what we have in Congress is a collection of greedy, self-centered Republicans.  The slogan “Clean the Swamp” has taken on an entire new meaning, and these men and women are swamp rats the likes of which we have not seen before. What I suggest, then, is that we begin planning for future elections today!  The following eight Republican senators who voted to confirm DeVos will be seeking re-election in November 2018:

Arizona Jeff Flake Republican 2018
Mississippi Roger Wicker Republican 2018
Nebraska Deb Fischer Republican 2018
Nevada Dean Heller Republican 2018
Tennessee Bob Corker Republican 2018
Texas Ted Cruz Republican 2018
Utah Orrin Hatch Republican 2018
Wyoming John Barrasso Republican 2018

If only one of these individuals had considered the future of education in this nation, I would be writing an entirely different post today.  If just one of these men and women had voted their conscience rather than their wallets, we would have the opportunity to improve our education system.  But not a one of them had the courage of their convictions.  Not one of them. And why?  Check out the graphic below, which explains a lot:

devos-1

What can we expect under DeVos?  Certainly we can expect a significant percentage of the budget for K-12 education to be diverted away from the public schools that most of our children and grandchildren attend and earmarked for school vouchers and charter schools, which benefit a relative few.

  • Schools will not be able to afford to hire the ‘best and brightest’ teachers, those who motivate and inspire children rather than simply assigning lessons and following a set curriculum
  • Schools will be forced to cut programs such as art, music, and athletics that contribute to a well-rounded education
  • Schools will not be able to afford to replace aging textbooks with more updated versions.
  • Things like supplies, building supplies and maintenance, student meals … even playground equipment and maintenance will fall by the wayside

In addition, Special Education for children with special needs could well become a thing of the past. The following is an excerpt from the DeVos confirmation hearings last month:

Senator Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire): I want to go back to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. That’s federal civil rights law. So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the states whether to follow it?

Betsy DeVos: Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.

Hassan: So were you unaware when I just asked you about the IDEA that it was a federal law? 

DeVos: I may have confused it.

One final note:  Charter schools and school vouchers tend to be religious schools, further reducing the diversity that is necessary to help our children grow to be less inclined toward bigotry in all its many forms.

And yet, FIFTY Republican senators lacked the cojones to say “No” to DeVos’ confirmation.  Of course, in addition to receiving funds from DeVos and her ‘philanthropist’ family, and in addition to being cowed by the bullying of Trump, these senators have no personally vested interest, as their children all attend private schools.

While most of the attention surrounding DeVos’ nomination has focused on K-12 education, it should be noted that her confirmation also puts her in charge of the nation’s trillion-dollar student loan program.  Though she has said little on the topic of higher education, she has criticized proposals for free college education and also for student debt elimination programs.

The U.S. currently ranks 115th worldwide in linguistic diversity, and 14th in education. The U.S. ranks only 7th in literacy worldwide.  I will be very curious to check those statistics in a few years, after DeVos has had time to implement her elitist policies.

Ms. DeVos’ confirmation is yet another huge black mark on our nation.  It is a sad day when we put the desires of a few above the needs of the many, yet that is exactly what was done today.  We cannot hope to remain a competitive and respected nation if we allow our system of education to fail the majority of students, which is precisely what Ms. DeVos has proposed.  Great job, Senators … the future of our nation rests on your consciences.

He Nominates A Conservative For SCOTUS … surprise

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for … after much anticipation, we finally know who Trump’s pick to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia is:  Neil Gorsuch.  Now, maybe you have heard of Gorsuch, maybe you haven’t, so let me give you a little brief bit of background on the man and his views, though it should suffice to say he is rich, white, and male, as have most all of Trump’s nominees for advisory and cabinet positions.

gorsuchNeil McGill Gorsuch is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit since being appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006. Gorsuch has the typical pedigree of a high court justice. He graduated from Columbia, Harvard and Oxford, clerked for two Supreme Court justices and did a stint at the Department of Justice. He is a conservative, of course, and  ruled in the case of Zubik v Burwell, commonly known as the Hobby Lobby case, in which Gorsuch held that the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that employers provide insurance coverage for contraceptives without a co-pay violated the rights of those employers that object to use of contraceptives on religious grounds. His ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Gorsuch favours the death penalty and is a strict constitutional originalist.  A brief explanation of that term may be in order.  There are two theories in constitutional interpretation:

  1. Originalism is the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted from the point of view of the framers who created the document in 1787, and
  2. Pragmatism is the theory that in the 230 years since the Constitution was written, many changes have taken place in society and the nation that necessitate a broader interpretation

And that, folks, is pretty much all I know about Mr. Gorsuch.  You didn’t ask, but I thought the Hobby Lobby decision was a bad one, as it opened the door for a host of other discriminatory Laws on the grounds of ‘religious freedom’.  I do not support the death penalty.  I believe that the pragmatic approach to constitutional interpretation makes the most sense (I actually have a paper I wrote on this topic for a Constitutional Law class several years back, if anybody is interested … 🙂  ).  So, in at least three major areas I disagree with Gorsuch.  But then, we didn’t think Trump would pick a candidate who thought like Filosofa, did we?

Trump has made no secret of the fact that his choice to fill this seat would be one who would cast his vote to overturn Roe v Wade, so we must assume that there has already been conversation and agreement on that major issue between Trump and Gorsuch.  Again, I disagree on this topic, but nobody asked me.

The process to confirm Gorsuch:

  • Referral to the 20-member Judiciary Committee (11 Republicans & 9 Democrats)
  • Pre-hearing research where his background and past rulings will be reviewed
  • Confirmation hearing
  • Committee vote
  • Full Senate vote

The only stage where I see a possible stumbling block in the process is the final, the full senate vote.  Democratic senators can filibuster and force a 60-vote requirement for confirmation, and there are only 52 Republicans in the senate.  Given the fact that the Republicans effectively blocked President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, by refusing to even hold confirmation hearings, the Democrats in the senate are still bitter and not much in the mood to play nice.  Senators Chuck Schumer and Jeff Merkley have both vowed to oppose any nominee other than Garland, as have other Senate Democrats.  It could be interesting, but I suspect that at the end of the day, Trump will have his way in this as he has everything else in the last 12 days.

“In light of the unconstitutional actions of our new President in just his first week, the Senate owes the American people a thorough and unsparing examination of this nomination. I had hoped that President Trump would work in a bipartisan way to pick a mainstream nominee like Merrick Garland and bring the country together. Instead, he outsourced this process to far-right interest groups. This is no way to treat a co-equal branch of government, or to protect the independence of our Federal judiciary.” – Senator Patrick Leahy, Democratic Senator from Vermont, 31 January 2017

“The Senate should respect the result of the election and treat this newly elected president’s nominee in the same way that nominees of newly elected presidents have been treated.” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 30 January 2017

McConnell was outspoken in his refusal to hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, yet he says this????

The reason the framers of the Constitution made Supreme Court positions lifetime appointments was to shield justices from partisanship.  They were intended to be accountable to their consciences rather than an electorate.  I am not sure that is the case today, especially in light of this nominee who, undoubtedly was chosen for his political views. Assuming he is confirmed, the Supreme Court will then consist of 4 liberal-leaning justices, 4 conservative-leaning, and 1 moderate (Anthony Kennedy).  With this composition, I think it unlikely that Trump will get his way and see Roe v Wade overturned quickly. The danger comes later, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 84, and Anthony Kennedy, age 81 decide to retire before Trump leaves office.  If he has the opportunity to appoint two more justices, then all bets are off.  Stay tuned …

Dumb, Dumber and … Betsy DeVos

Senate confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet picks have been underway since January 10th, and frankly do not seem to be going well, overall.  Under normal circumstances, I would say that at least 75% of his selections will be unconfirmed, but as we are all aware, we are in the post-truth, topsy-turvy world of Trump, and nothing is normal.  Trump was hoping all his nominations to be confirmed today, the day of his inauguration, but Republicans in Congress were more realistically hoping for seven confirmations today. I will be very surprised to see that happen.

Technically, his nominations cannot be put to a vote by the senate until after Trump takes the oath of office at noon.  Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that the only two that will be voted upon today are:

  • Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for Defense secretary
  • Retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security

Ethical questions about the others will likely keep their nominations from coming to a vote just yet, if ever.  Tom Price, the nominee for Health and Human Services secretary has been questioned about his investments in health care stocks. Then there are Mick Mulvaney, the nominee for budget director who failed to pay required taxes for a babysitter; Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO and secretary of State nominee who has refused to recuse himself from future issues involving the company; and Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and Trump’s nominee for treasury secretary, who failed to disclose $100 million in assets on forms he gave the Senate Finance Committee. As Senator Schumer remarked, “The president-elect is not draining the swamp … he’s filling it up.”  I would agree … filling it with rich, white, greedy men and women. Republicans, who hold a 52-seat-majority in the Senate, need only 51 votes to confirm Trump’s nominees. However, Democrats have the power under Senate rules to drag out the process by insisting on days of debate before a vote.

Interestingly, nominees Mattis, Pompeo, Tillerson and Kelly all veered somewhat from Trump’s positions in their confirmation hearings last week on issues of trade, border security, foreign policy, Iran, and — perhaps most frequently — Russia.  But that is a story for another day, as today I wish to use my time and words to address one nominee and her hearing, specifically Betsy DeVos.  I recently wrote about DeVos and her high level of incompatibility and incompetence for the job of Secretary of Education.  The woman has never been either a teacher or an administrator, never even attended public schools, has worked to take funding away from public schools for charter schools and private/religious school vouchers.  Presumably Trump’s reason for nominating her was, a) the fact that she and her husband are billionaires many times over, and b) that she is the least qualified person he could find for the position.  Both of those seem to be his leading criteria in most of his selections.

Ms. DeVos has taken a page from Trump’s playbook … the page that says “answer no question directly, but always circumvent.” Let us take a quick look at some of the answers she gave to questions during her three-and-a-half hour confirmation hearing:

Q: “Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?”

DeVos: “I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.”

I told you … she took a page right out of Trump’s playbook! Never, ever, give a direct answer.


Q: “Do you think that guns have any place in or around schools?”

DeVos: “I think that’s best left to locales and states to decide. I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

It happens that the Senator who asked this question was Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where, in 2012, a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Really smart answer, Betsy.


Q: “Do you think K-12 schools that receive federal funding should meet the same accountability standards, outcome standards?”

DeVos: “Yes. Although, you have different accountability standards between traditional public schools and charter schools.”

Q: “And, if confirmed, will you insist upon that equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives federal funding whether public, public charter or private?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Q: “Equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funding.”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Q: “Okay, is that a yes or a no?”

DeVos: “That’s a, ‘I support accountability.’ “

Q: “Do you not want to answer my question?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Can we say “I am a broken record, I am a broken record, I am a broken record …”? It is to be noted that DeVos fought against accountability and oversight for charter schools in the past.


Q: “Should all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act?”

DeVos: “I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states.”

Q: “So some states might be good to kids with disabilities, and other states might not be so good. And then, what?”

DeVos: “I think that’s an issue that’s best left to the states.”

Q: “What about the federal requirement? It’s a federal law — the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Let’s limit it to federal funding. If schools receive federal funding should they be required to follow federal law — whether they’re public, public charter, or private?”

DeVos: “I think that is certainly worth discussion.”

Q: “So were you unaware, when I just asked you about the IDEA, that it was a federal law?”

DeVos: “I may have confused it.”

Filosofa has no comment on this because … she is still picking her jaw up from the floor.

Though full transcripts of the Q&A portion of the hearings are not available at this time, I suggest for more of DeVos’ questions and answers, you check out this article in NPR … it is the most comprehensive I was able to find.

Surely nobody, after hearing three-and-a-half hours of this gibberish, can believe that this woman is in the least bit qualified to make top-level decisions regarding our public school system!  I was already convinced, based on my research into her background and policy stances, that she was unqualified, but if I had doubts, this hearing would have put them all to rest.  This woman is among the most unqualified of Trump’s nominees to perform a job that is arguably one of the most important to the survival of our democracy.  I hope that there are at least three Republican senators out of 52 who are willing to stand up for what is right, stand up for the future of this nation, follow their conscience and refuse to confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Da Clapper vs. Da Trumpeter

“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

That was Wednesday morning’s tweet from none other than Donald Trump, in response to the majority of the mainstream media reporting on certain information contained in a document that the intelligence chiefs had imparted to President Obama and also Trump on Tuesday.  How did the media get the story?  I neither know nor really care at this moment, but Trump’s angry response was not well received, especially by the Jewish community who say the analogy to Nazi Germany was erroneous, offensive and denigrating to Holocaust survivors. They are demanding that he apologize for it. I agree. If the man ever engaged his brain prior to engaging his fingers ….

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, of the Anti-Defamation League, said that Mr. Trump’s analogy was “not only an inappropriate comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse. We have a long record of speaking out when both Democrats and Republicans engage in such overheated rhetoric. It would be helpful for the president-elect to explain his intentions or apologize for the remark.”  However, Trump chose instead to heap insult on top of injury in his press conference later on Wednesday, blaming the intelligence agencies for allowing the release of what he said was erroneous information about him and saying, “I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, attempted to reach out to Trump, despite Trump’s highly inappropriate temper tantrum:

clapper

James Clapper, DNI

“This evening, I had the opportunity to speak with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss recent media reports about our briefing last Friday. I expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.

We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable [emphasis added], and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.

President-elect Trump again affirmed his appreciation for all the men and women serving in the Intelligence Community, and I assured him that the IC stands ready to serve his Administration and the American people.”

James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence 

tactAnd with that, the dispute between Trump and the Intelligence community is put to rest, right?  WRONG!  The next day, Trump tweeted: “James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated. Made up, phony facts.Too bad!”  Oh come on, Donnie-boy … what do you want, the man to lick your bloomin’ boots?  Note that Mr. Clapper, whose integrity I respect more than that of Trump, specifically said that the intelligence community had made no judgment on the reliability of the document.  NO JUDGMENT. 

My hope is that the information contained in the document is either verified or proven false before January 20th, less than a week, because I suspect that the investigation will be quietly dropped once Trump takes office.  James Clapper will leave his position at the end of the Obama administration, and, pending senate confirmation, will be replaced by Trump’s nominee, Dan Coats.

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Dan Coats

Dan Coats is a two-term senator from Indiana who is well-liked and respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.  He may well be one of the better of Trump’s selections. While fiscally conservative, he has often found common cause with Democrats, who described him as thoughtful on intelligence and national security issues, with a sharp intellect and disarming humor. “I have always been impressed with his demeanor,” said Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and who served on the Intelligence Committee with Mr. Coats and traveled with him in Eastern Europe. “He’s not a fierce partisan and knows the intelligence community. He’s very amiable and easy to work with.”

The job of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is to coordinate the intelligence-gathering and analysis of the country’s 16 civilian and military spy agencies, helping to prevent a terrorist attack and serving as a central liaison to presidents and their White House staff.

A bit about his political views:

  • He has supported several pieces of gun-regulation legislation, including the Biden-Thurmond Violent Crime Control Act of 1991 which would have created a waiting period for handgun purchases and placed a ban on assault weapons, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, and the Feinstein Amendment 1152 to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1993.
  • Coats was one of the authors of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and opposed its 2011 repeal. He does not support same-sex marriage.
  • Coats pressed President Barack Obama to punish Russia harshly for its March 2014 annexation of Crimea. For this stance, Coats and several other lawmakers were banned from travelling to Russia.
  • Coats cosponsored, with former Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, and James Jeffords the Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1998, which amended the Head Start Act, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Act of 1981, and the Community Services Block Grant Act… in order to provide an opportunity for persons with limited means to accumulate assets.”

He received the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s Charles G. Berwind Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. He also frequently donates to charity and has helped underprivileged youth. I am quite surprised that he is Trump’s choice for DNI, as he seems too moderate and too humanitarian to fit into the regime.  I disagree with his stance on LGBT, but apart from that, I see very little not to like about Mr. Coats.  This is one whom I would actually like to see confirmed.

So much political news to opine about these days … my mind and body cannot keep up!  I am getting calluses on my fingertips from pounding the keyboard and am considering buying a second laptop as backup when I finally kill this one.  I was particularly amused by a comment I saw on Facebook earlier today: “These last few weeks have been the longest 4 years of my life.”  I share that sentiment.

Two Good Men

Yesterday, during the second day of the senate confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, two men in particular spoke up for justice, for humanity, and against Senator Jeff Sessions.  It is yet to be seen whether their voices made a difference in the outcome, but I am proud of both and think they deserve a two thumbs up for their courage and dedication to the seemingly obsolete concept of “doing what is right”.  The two men are Senator Cory Booker and Representative John Lewis.     doffing-hat

Senator Booker’s speech, parts of which I have quoted below, mark the first time a sitting senator has testified against a colleague’s nomination for a Cabinet post!  In way of an explanation for his break in tradition, he said, “In the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country.”

“I know that some of my many colleagues aren’t happy that I’m breaking with senate tradition to testify on the nomination of one of my colleagues. America was founded heralding not law and order, but justice for all. And critical to that is equal justice under the law. Law and order without justice is unobtainable. They are inextricably tied together; if there is no justice there is no peace. The Alabama State troopers on the Edmund Pettis bridge were seeking law and order. The marchers were seeking justice, and ultimately a greater peace. In that office the responsibility to pursue civil rights and equal protection for all of America, Senator Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment. In fact at numerous times in his career he has demonstrated a hostility towards these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance the ideals. If confirmed Senator Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women. But his record indicates that he will not. He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to expand voting rights. But his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity but the record indicates that he won’t. His record indicates that as attorney general he would object to the growing national bipartisan movement towards criminal justice reform. His records indicate that we cannot count on him to support state and national efforts towards bringing justice to the justice system and people on both sides of the aisle.”

Mr. Booker will no doubt face criticism for his courage, but those of us who agree that Jeff Sessions is not the right person for Attorney General will applaud his actions.

Representative John Lewis, already much admired for his role as a civil rights leader for many years, also spoke against Sessions’ nomination:

“A clear majority of Americans say they want this to be a fair, just, and open nation. They are afraid this country is headed in the wrong direction. They are concerned that some leaders reject decades of progress and want to return to the dark past, when the power of law was used to deny the freedoms protected by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and its Amendments. These are the voices I represent today.

We can pretend that the law is blind. We can pretend that it is even-handed. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are called upon daily by the people we represent to help them deal with unfairness in how the law is written and enforced. Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Sen. Sessions’ call for “law and order” will mean today what it meant in Alabama, when I was coming up back then. The rule of law was used to violate the human and civil rights of the poor, the dispossessed, people of color.

We have come a distance. We have made progress, but we are not there yet. There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward. As the late A. Phillip Randolph, who was the dean of the March on Washington in 1963 often said, ” our foremothers and forefathers all came to this land in distant ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

It doesn’t matter whether Sen. Sessions may smile or how friendly he may be, whether he may speak to you. We need someone who will stand up and speak up and speak out for the people who need help, for people who are being discriminated against. And it doesn’t matter whether they are black or white, Latino, Asian or Native American, whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian or Jews We all live in the same house, the American house. We need someone as attorney general who is going to look for all of us, not just some of us. I ran out of time. Thank for giving me a chance to testify.”

It is doubtful, given that the Republican senators appear poised to rule favourably on anything proposed by Mr. Trump, including his cabinet nominees, that either Senator Booker’s or Representative Lewis’ words will have an effect on the final outcome.  They should, if the senate were comprised of men and women of conscience, men and women who took seriously their commitments to represent ALL the people of this nation.   Nonetheless, I applaud the efforts of these two gentlemen who followed the dictates of their conscience, men of high values, for their efforts.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Cory Booker and John Lewis!

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Links to video clips:

Cory Booker video (7:46)

John Lewis video (7:02)

 

Will Jeff Sessions, Racist, Be Confirmed This Week?

This morning at 9:30 the Senate Judiciary Committee will open the senate confirmation hearings for Trump nominee Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General.  The hearings will be held over a two-day period, concluding on Wednesday.  You can find a full schedule of hearings for the week here.

I have mentioned Sessions in numerous posts, and in late November I wrote this one detailing the reasons I am against his nomination.   There is no need to re-hash old ground, so suffice it to say that Sessions is a proven racist who will likely set civil rights back 100 years if confirmed.  How likely is his confirmation? Let us look at some of the things that may affect the process.

First, each nominee is required to be cleared by both the independent Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and the FBI.  There is concern because a number of Trump’s nominees have not yet completed the process nor filed the appropriate financial paperwork, though apparently Sessions is not among those, which would indicate that he has already been cleared by both agencies.  The purpose of this OGE review is to review potential conflicts of interest and determine the course of action the nominee must take in order to resolve such conflicts.

Second, on Tuesday, Sessions will face questions on his 20-year tenure in the Senate, including his staunch stances on immigration, mass incarceration and civil rights. Then on Wednesday the second part of Sessions’ confirmation hearing follows very public pushbacks from the NAACP, whose members staged a sit-in at his Alabama office last week and were arrested, and by more than 1,400 faculty members from 180 law schools in 49 states, all of whom signed a letter opposing his nomination for attorney general. Other groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have publicly opposed Sessions’ appointment on the grounds of his stance on police reform, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, criminal justice reform, Muslims’ rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, women’s rights, privacy rights, torture, and abortion rights. Frankly I have to wonder if two days will be enough to cover all the questions he should be made to answer.

Once the hearings are complete, the Judiciary Committee can either move the nomination to the Senate floor for a vote, or decide not to, which in essence kills the nomination and it would be back to the drawing board for Trump. If the nomination is moved to the Senate floor, the Judiciary Committee makes a recommendation, either pro, con, or neutral.

Third, this is the makeup of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will conduct the hearings and make a recommendation to the entire Senate:

Majority – Republican

Minority – Democrat

Chuck Grassley, Iowa, Chairman Dianne Feinstein, California, Ranking Member
Orrin Hatch, Utah Patrick Leahy, Vermont
Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Dick Durbin, Illinois
John Cornyn, Texas Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island
Mike Lee, Utah Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota
Ted Cruz, Texas Al Franken, Minnesota
Ben Sasse, Nebraska Chris Coons, Delaware
Jeff Flake, Arizona Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut
Mike Crapo, Idaho Mazie Hirono, Haiwaii
Thom Tillis, North Carolina  
John Neely Kennedy, Louisiana  

The present modus operandi seems to be that most all Republicans in Congress are supporting Trump in all things.  Good little lap puppies they are.  One concern is that Senator Cruz is vociferously supporting the nomination.  He wrote a piece for Politico  that I encourage you to read.  I found it highly offensive, given Sessions’ history. I suspect that Cruz will sway any errant Republican members of the committee who might be considering voting ‘nay’ with his strong-arm, bullying tactics.

Fourth, there is the composition of the entire Senate.  The Senate is comprised of 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats. If every senator votes along party lines, then the simple majority will be made and Sessions will become the next Attorney General of the United States.  If, however, just three Republican senators vote against the confirmation, then he will not be confirmed.  In the event of a tie, Mike Pence will cast the tie-breaking vote, and we all know how he will vote.  The simple fact that there is a Republican majority in the Senate would likely indicate that Sessions’ hearing and subsequent confirmation will go through with little or no resistance from the majority. My hope is that, given the past history and contentiousness of this particular nominee, one might hope that there are at least three Republican senators who would follow their conscience, if in fact they are possessed of one. (One interesting aside:  Senator Sessions can actually vote for himself, as he no doubt will.) The Washington Post predicts that most of Trump’s nominees, including Jeff Sessions, will be confirmed with few problems, and I am inclined to agree.  But we shall see.  Perhaps there are a few good men sitting on the right in the Senate.

***ABC News has an excellent, informative article titled Senate Confirmation Hearings: Everything to Know.  It is a plain language, understandable explanation of the process that I highly recommend.

The Economy, Jobs, and Trump’s Choice for Secretary of Labour

The final jobs report for 2016 was released last week by the Department of Labour.  The result was favourable for the month of December and the year.  The U.S. economy added 156,000 jobs in December, and just over 2 million jobs in 2016. Some economists had predicted a rise of 183,000 jobs for the month, so the numbers were slightly lower than that, but still positive.  The unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.7% from 4.6% at the end of November.  Still, it is lower than the ‘pre-recession’ rate of 4.8%, and a significant improvement over the 9.3% when President Obama took office in 2009.

“For most of the year, the unemployment rate has been hovering just under 5 percent, the lowest levels since 2007. Although the pace of employment growth in 2016 slowed compared to 2014 and 2015—the height of the economic recovery—last year’s numbers put outgoing President Barack Obama ahead of George W. Bush (but behind Bill Clinton) when it comes to job creation.

In 2009, when Obama took office, the U.S. labor market was facing record-high unemployment—the highest since the early 1980s recession—and job losses due to the financial crisis. In January of 2009—the month Obama was inaugurated—the American economy lost 791,000 jobs. Now—eight years later—the U.S. has experienced 75 consecutive months of job growth (emphasis added).”Bourree Lam, The Atlantic, 06 January 2017

Nonetheless, Trump has consistently stated that, “Our jobs are fleeing the country,” and “Our country’s in deep trouble.” While I am past critiquing his rhetoric, and that is all this is, I see danger in the fact that he is primed to destroy the strongest economy we have had since the financial crisis began in 2008, under President George W. Bush.  He will inherit a strong economy, but how long can he keep it strong?  Especially considering that the holiday shopping season was underwhelming for major retailers, including Macy’s, Sears and Kohls, all of whom have already announced plans for store closures and job cuts in the near future.

puzder

Andres Puzder, another rich, white male

Last month, Trump chose Andrew F. Puzder as Secretary of Labour under his regime.  Like Trump’s other nominees, Puzder is a Trump-a-like, a wealthy businessman and political donor and has a long record of promoting a conservative agenda that takes aim at President Obama’s legacy. Some specifics that concern me about Puzder:

 

  • He has argued that the Obama administration’s recent rule expanding eligibility for overtime pay diminishes opportunities for workers.
  • He is against raising minimum wage, arguing that significant minimum wage increases would hurt small businesses and lead to job losses.
  • He has criticized paid sick leave policies.
  • He strongly supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, which he says has created a “government-mandated restaurant recession” because rising premiums have left people with less money to spend dining out. (Excuse me, but if people are dead because they could not get medical care, they cannot dine out anyway)
  • He said that increased automation could be a welcome development because machines were “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

A lesser issue, but nonetheless telling of the man’s values are the advertisements by his company, CKE Restaurants, which typically feature nearly naked women making suggestive gestures.  “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.”  Again, Trump-a-like.

Richard L. Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said Mr. Puzder was “a man whose business record is defined by fighting against working people.”

The duties of the Secretary of Labour are to oversee the department responsible for investigation reports of violations of minimum wage, overtime and worker safety laws and regulations. Puzder’s company owns fast food restaurants, including Hardees and Carl’s Jr. stores, both of which have been investigated by the Department of Labour and in some cases fined or ordered to pay back wages.  Such are not uncommon in the industry, but I still find it indicative of a less than stellar reputation in the area of worker’s rights.

I am no economist, but this much I know: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  The number of jobs in the nation has been increasing and improving for the past seven years, and Trump’s economic policies seem to me destined to slow, stop, or even reverse that trend.  However, as he wears blinders and is focused intently on reversing anything and everything that President Obama has done, I shudder to think what he and Puzder might do to our economy.  The repeal of ACA (Obamacare) alone is estimated to cost the U.S. some 3 million jobs.

Admittedly, this is a rather simplistic view, as jobs are only one part of the economic equation, and I have not mentioned average household income, or the trade deficit, which jumped in December. Both of those topics, however, are for another post. However, jobs are the part of the economy that the average working person cares most about, can relate to very personally, and can understand. Trade deficits are rather a vague concept to most, and they will not much care one way or another as long as they have a decent-paying job.  Cynical?  Yes, but also realistic.

Once again, as with so many others, I am convinced that Trump has picked the wrong man for the job.  But what do I know?